Between the years of 1983 and 1997, writer/director William Olsen gave us four films: Getting It On (1983; creepy, sex-starved T&A teens partaking of video technologies; originally known as American Voyeur), Rockin’ Road Trip (1985), After School (1988; a Sam Bottoms-starring, forbidden teacher-student mess that took four screenwriter to get made), and the final film, Southern Belles (1997; that looks like a Cinemax soft-porn romp, and probably is).
We will probably never review — because we never searched them out (then or now) — the remainder of Olsen’s resume, and are only here due to Sam the Bossman inspiring a little celluloid archeology as result of devising another “Rock n’ Roll” theme week. And that we relish scrapping barrel bottoms. And the fact that Leon Rippy co-stars.
So, have you ever spoken the phrase, “The soundtrack is better than the movie?” Well, that’s the case, here, as props are to be given to Olsen for at least pulling together an ’80s college rock soundtrack dream — courtesy of Landslide Records, the distributor of college rock stalwarts, dB Records — with R.E.M’s fellow Athens-based bands Guadalcanal Diary (who also stars, here), Love Tractor, Pylon, The Heartfixers (featuring noted blues guitarist Tinsley Ellis; managed by Michael Rothchild, president of Landslide Records), Marianna Pace, and . . . the Cheryl Wilson Band (?) (handled by Michael Rothchild via his Frozen Inca Music-imprint).
Hey, forget about the soundtrack! Did you say “Leon Rippy”?
Yes, this lost VHS’er — also known as Summertime Blues (nixed after Warner Music objected to the use of the old Eddie Cochran tune as a title; yeah, the same tune covered by Blue Cheer and Hendrix; the version butchered by the Cheryl Wilson Band is an original and not a cover) — stars the very same Leon Rippy who starred in seven Roland Emmerich movies: Moon 44 (1990), Eye of the Storm (1991), Universal Soldier (1992), Stargate (1994), The Thirteenth Floor (1999), The Patriot (2000), and Eight Legged Freaks (2002). Not only did Rippy begin his career with Rockin’ Road Trip (his 9th role — and biggest part, to date), he also had support roles in King Kong Lives (1986) and Young Guns II (1990). Why yes, that is the Rip starring as Tom Nuttal in HBO’s Deadwood. Hey, all actors gotta start, somewhere — remember Oscar-nodded John Hawkes starting out in the apoc-slop that is Future-Kill?
Oh, and for some reason: this film has a freaky connection to Stephen King.
Not only was one of Rippy’s earliest character-support roles in Stephen King’s Firestarter (as “Blinded Agent”), (the late) Steve Boles, who stars, here, also got his start in Firestarter (as “Mailman”), while actor Graham Smith, who stars as Ivan the Angry Punk, followed up with a role as “Porter Zinneman” in Silver Bullet, and actor Martin Tucker, here as Lenny, was a featured background actor in Maximum Overdrive. (The rest of the actors in the film are done-and-gone.)
Now, let’s see if we can sort out this confusing plot of rock bands, psycho boyfriends, blind street preachers, we-think-we-murdered-him runaways, mistaken-identity jewel thieves, stolen $5000 cash-stashes, and you have-to-come-home-because-dad-is-sick hijinks. And we say “hijinks,” because, even with the plot points of murder, larceny and terminal illness, this is still, yes, a comedy — bankrolled by Lloyd Kaufman’s Troma shingle.
We have another rock n’ roll tale of (the later) The Runnin’ Kind (1989) variety, with Martin: a lonely n’ horny college era ne’er-do-well who, this time, travels from Boston to (another) a college rock hotspot in (Chapel Hill) North Carolina (yes, and bands are from Athens) all for love of Nicole, the lead singer of his favorite band, Cherry Suicide. In his attempt to meet Nicole, Martin, instead, hooks up with Nicole’s sister, Samantha (with one sister, but pining for the other; been there, done that) and gets wrapped up in their personal drama (been there, done that, too).
And Martin runs afoul of the trope-laden hot Nicole’s Ivan, her trope-laden crazy-ass-frack boyfriend (with bad haircut to match the bad thespin’). Nickie and little sis get the drop on Ivan the Hammy during one of his abusive-psycho rages, gives him a good whack on the noggin’, and steal his ill-gotten stash of five grand. So, now, the sisters need to split town — and recruit Martin to head on down to North Carolina.
But why North Carolina, of all places?
Well, turns out the sisters’ dad is terminally ill, so they’ll just bring their murder-robbery drama (Ivan’s not dead, after all) into their mom and dad’s home. You gotta love the family-love.
Oh, and Martin brings along his blind, street preacher buddy, Wally, because, well, a gang is loose on the streets randomly beating up street beggars in a crazed search for a valuable ring — one that ended up in the panhandling cup of a beggar: Wally’s cup. (Oh, Leon Rippy runs the seedy, Virginia hotel that Cherry Suicide and friends checks-in; the new wave caterwauls of the Cheryl Wilson Band doubles as Cherry Suicide.)
You got that?
Yeah, as you can see, this film — sans a somewhat cool soundtrack (the Cheryl Wilson stuff is utterly awful; couldn’t you get Josie Cotton from Valley Girl, at least) that was never officially released — is a hot mess (with plenty of comedic musical montage fillers to pad that run time, as if the rock band scenes weren’t enough). Yeah, this ain’t no Cotton Candy. Where’s the deliciously dickish Torbin Bequette — in place of Ivan the Crappy Actor — when we need him?
What’s not a (Troma) mess is the cinematography and sound; this is a well-shot film, courtesy of Austin McKinney — winding down his long career begun in the early ’50s. In addition to working on a few films with Jack Hill (Fear Chamber, House of Evil, Pit Stop, Isle of the Snake People, Alien Terror, Sorceress), McKinney designed the visual effects in Escape from New York and The Terminator, and worked in the sound department on A Nightmare on Elm Street and Hellraiser III. You’ve also seen his camerawork in work in Galaxy of Terror, Jaws 3-D, and (radio station romp) Redneck Miller. McKinney also shot Olsen’s Getting It On and After School (so maybe they’ll be worth digging up, after all).
You can pick up copies of Rockin’ Road Trip on DVD by VCI, which features a stills gallery from William Olsen’s personal collection (with his voice over), as well as a 20-minute interview vignette with Olsen, who tells us the film was planned as a larger scale project — with Ellen Barkin as the rocker chick and Peter Riegert as the love-struck artist. Considering Barkin was in Eddie and the Cruisers and Riegert was in Animal House (this film’s dual, raison d’être ______ “meets” ______ pitch) that would have been something to see. But financing issues stymied their castings . . . and we ended up with a bunch of never-heard-of-or-seen-again North Carolina theatre actors.
So, with $20,000 bucks in his pocket, Olsen gave us this rock ‘n’ not-roll excuse for a T&A sex comedy — one that so wants to be Porky’s, but can’t make the grades to get into Faber. But hey, Rockin’ Road Trip ended up as a USA’s Up All Night weekend-overnight programmer, and that’s not bad return on the investment of two Salmon P. Chase greenbacks.
Yeah, thanks to The USA Network, it was something to do on a dateless Saturday Night — once you had your fill of Riki Rachtman frackin’ up MTV’s Headbangers Ball (dick). But as with the abysmal Hail Ceasar and Splitz, both which we reviewed this week, Rockin’ Road Trip is another not-rockin’ flick you watched once (well, twice, if you have to write a review for it) and you never go back home again. But, hey, you can stream for a retro $2.00 rental on Amazon Prime — and get the DVDs (with crappy art work) at Walmart (for the VHS sadist in you). (Oddly enough, back when my local public library carried VHS tapes, a copy Rockin’ Road Trip — probably a patron donation — was on the shelf.)
You say you need more ’80s college rock of the Georgia peach variety? Then check out Love Tractor — and many others — in the documentary (and released soundtrack) Athens, Ga. Inside/Out (1987; there’s bits n’ pieces of it on You Tube). If you need another errant college-cum-new wave band showing up in a film (with a band that had an actual commercial radio hit), check out the Plimsouls doing “A Million Miles Away” in Valley Girl. Hey, almost forgot! If you want to see another (superior) North Carolina band rockin’ it up in a movie, check out Fetchin’ Bones with “Love Crushing in (the radio romp) A Matter of Degrees. (Yeah, if only we had John Doe of X and Hope Nichols of Fetchin’ Bones in the roles originally meant for Ellen Barkin and Peter Riegert . . . oh, well.)
If you need more Teen Sex Comedies — and don’t we all — be sure check out our “Drive-In Friday: Teen Sex Comedies” featurette.
Oh, when college rock began . . . the sweet sounds of youth. Real life sucks . . . as these clips from R.E.M’s first TV appearance from 1983 and these clips of Guadalcanal Diary on the film’s set and the film’s finished scene, prove.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.